Sunday, June 7, 2020
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
Every now and then I enjoy going over to the beach at night. Even walking outside on the lawn near my lanai offers a similar perspective, but when I go over to the beach (especially on a cloudless night during a new moon) I am reminded of just how small I am with respect to the universe that surrounds me. [Pause]
“When I look at your heavens,” the Psalmist sings, “the moon and the stars you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them just a little lower than God.”
“You have given us ‘dominion’ over the works of your hands.” Or, as Eugene Peterson translates this Message version, “You have put us ‘in charge’ of your hand-crafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge.”
In that moment of overwhelming AWE, the Psalmist realizes the responsibility – the “Kuleana” – given to human beings for everything in the created order – “all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea”– everything, including one another. [Pause]
In the past week and one-half we have witnessed the response – or what happens – when we turn our backs, abrogating our responsibility to take care of all things – including, one another.
We see this all the time with regard to our planet. When we refuse to care for her and abuse her by completely disregarding the poisons and plastics we dump into her oceans, landfills, and the neighborhoods of the marginalized. Or when we suck the life out of her through drilling and fracking and irresponsibly harvest the minerals and fluids we need to satisfy our addictions.
Some have observed that our planet has begun to revolt due to the abuses it has endured, resulting in climate change and global warming. We see this through the increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes, the melting polar icecap, and fires on both mainland coasts as a result of unending drought.
Ironically, an observable healing seems to be taking place as the whole world has been forced to slow down due to our current pandemic – and if for only a moment, has allowed the earth to breathe and restore life.
But in these last two weeks we have seen another result of our ignorance, or our deliberate ignoring by turning our backs on those who too often have been silenced through suppression and intimidation and abuse by the dominant culture. It is a way of life that has gone on for too long and a festering anger has emerged through protest and cries for justice as those directly affected are insisting we all pay attention. Much like the earth – abuse can only go on for so long before the effects will be felt by all.
The response was initially through peaceful demonstrations following the unnecessary death of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers – whose responsibility it is to protect the people – all people. We have no idea why this happened, but we do know what was caught on videotape. These demonstrations quickly degenerated into riots and total chaos as organized militant groups (predominantly white) incited crowds to violence and the massive destruction that followed.
While it is understandable why this happened, as demonstrators’ emotions were so raw as a result of ongoing injustice and outright racism that is deep and systemic throughout our nation, the violent behavior that took place is inexcusable and ultimately only made matters worse.
And then, to add fuel to an already raging fire, just a few days later, our President took an action that I find as reprehensible as the white militants who incited the protesters. Instead of offering words of reconciliation to bring a severely hurting nation together, he abused his power, and privilege by forcibly removing peaceful protestors in order to march over to a church that he does not attend, to stand in front of it for reasons I do not understand, while holding up a bible that apparently he does not read – because this is NOT the way of Jesus.
As I watched all this unfold, I re-read this amazing Psalm – Psalm 8. The differences could not be more striking. The Psalmist observed something very important that, I suppose, most of us often overlook. He recognized how insignificant he is in the grand scheme of things. “When I look around me and see the wonders of your Creation.” He responds as Anne Lamott has offered as the third part of her “three-word prayer.” “Help – thanks – WOW!
It’s the same feeling I get when I take that late evening glance at the sky. Or the feeling Randy and I often have when we are swimming out in the ocean and sense the enormity of the sea with all its inhabitants – and Haleakalā in the distance. WOW! How little we are in comparison.
And yet, and yet – he realizes that we have been given the critical responsibility – as humans – to care for it. Our kuleana is to nurture all aspects of the created order including the human beings that inhabit it whether they are white or black or brown. We are to care for them not because we have to, but because we need each other in order to learn and grow and appreciate fully the gift of life. We need to care for each other that all might live in peace and harmony, and so that all might thrive.
If we turn our backs on that responsibility – our kuleana – we become contributors to the deeper, systemic problems that we see manifest in our society each day. When we only take rather than give, when we keep silent rather than speak truth, when we look the other way rather than face our own complicity with the ills of this world we become a big part of the problem.
Instead, we are being challenged and gifted for the work that is called for in our United Church of Christ Statement of Faith – to receive “courage in the struggle for justice and peace.” We are charged with caring for all of creation and that begins with recognizing the various ways that we might be part of the problem.
I invite us all, at this dark and conflicted time in our nation’s history to examine our lives, our own rhetoric, and our actions as people of faith, that we might stand with those who are crying out in need at this time. To take our kuleana seriously. To be wise stewards of all that has been entrusted to us. That we might be co-creators with God in making our world a safe place for all creation – all God’s children.